Poor old Durban – it feels as though she has come-off second-best in a pub brawl, and has emerged slightly concussed, a tad crestfallen, battered, and bruised – but like the best brawlers, she has picked herself up, dusted herself down and lives to fight another day.
After the barrage of bad news, I chose to fall in love with my hometown again by visiting some of my favourite places in the city we call home.
This indescribable, eclectic palace close to Kloof Gorge has a phenomenal private collection under one roof. It is extraordinary, a sensory overload.
- Ammazulu African Palace, 20 Windsor Road, Kloof
- 031 764 8000
- Guided tours are recommended
Walk into your dreams
Staying in Kloof, escape into the magical Ammazulu Gardens and Sculpture Precinct. It feels a bit like a gigantic Easter Egg hunt – searching for 120 enormous sculptures hidden in nooks and crannies on a portion of a 20-acre primeval forest.
Local, African and international artists from diverse traditions have created the works using different media
- 88 Kloof Falls Rd, Kloof
- 083 244 7565
- Open to the public, Thursday to Sun: 10am-4pm, or by appointment
Learn from history’s darkest hours
The Durban Holocaust and Genocide Centre is not easy to visit, but really worthwhile.
It pays homage to the millions of innocent people who lost their lives through the consequences of prejudice around the world in recent times – especially the Jewish Holocaust as well as the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, among others.
There is an excellent permanent exhibition, a tranquil memory garden, an extensive library and resource centre, and alfresco cafe with fabulous cheesecake.
- 44 KE Masinga Rd, Durban
- 031 368 6833
Seeking calm among the cloisters
To the West of Durban lies Mariannhill, home to a magnificent monastery founded by Trappist Monks in 1882, as an extensive and busy Catholic Mission. Mariannhill feels like a calm spiritual beacon untouched by time. The monastery was a thriving village boasting various upliftment and entrepreneurship projects, all with a deeply spiritual ethos.
Although some of the projects have diminished over time, it’s well worth a visit and a tour – or catch a music concert which are held regularly.
- 10 Mariannhill Monastery Road, Pinetown
A booklover’s paradise
Durban’s dream destination for Bibliophiles is Ike’s Books and Collectables – a magical second-hand, out-of-print and antiquarian bookshop perched above a busy Italian restaurant close to the Greyville Racecourse. Resembling a homage to Dickens, handsome eclectic leather-bound books are stacked alongside a (still in use) old typewriter. An airy open veranda with comfy armchairs allows leisurely browsing.
To market, to market …
Durban has a myriad markets supporting thousands of informal traders and providing visitors with affordable, local, bespoke retail options.
The incredible rabbit-warren that is Warwick is a distinctly Durban inner-city destination with its nine separate markets where one can buy anything from school uniforms to shwe-shwe; local cuisine to exotic spices; fresh produce to fresh fish; traditional remedies to high-tech gadgets, cow’s heads to beads in abundance. For first timers, it’s best to join a tour as it’s a bit overwhelming to navigate on your own.
Other recommended markets include Shongweni Farmers & Craft Market (Saturday 7am-1pm, last Sunday of month, 8am-1pm); Golden Hours Market in Durban North (Sunday 10am-3.30pm) and I Heart Market in Ballito (first Saturday of the month, 8.30am-2pm).
Full steam ahead!
A fun family outing is a chug through the hills with “Wesley” – an octogenarian Class 19D steam loco pulling handsome old coaches. Umgeni Steam Railway is a slick, efficient non-profit organisation run by a charming bunch of ferroequinologists (lovers of “iron horses”).
The route follows part of the Durban to Pietermaritzburg mainline opened in 1880 and covers some of the steepest railway gradients in South Africa including a 53m-long tunnel at Drummond, built in 1878.
Chunks of the trainline were badly damaged in the floods, so all activities are geared to fundraise to repair the line. There are regular trips from Inchanga to Botha’s Hill; a pop-up market and food fair at Inchanga, where one can also visit the Railway Museum and model railway exhibition; and buy refreshments and souvenirs in the old Inchanga railway station.
- Bookings essential
Quirky community theatre
Surely one of Durban’s quirkiest entertainment destinations is the Rhumbelow Theatre in the old MOTH Hall in Umbilo’s Cunningham Road.
This community theatre is home to regular live productions, musical revues and a lively Movie Club offering old-fashioned movie nights out with friends…with a drink in your hand and a range of snacks on offer. The club offers a careful mix of classics, art-house titles, unusual finds, crowd-pleasers, and pure nostalgia.
A great Durban success story is the Green Corridor initiative – a joint public/private/community project which promotes environmentally sustainable tourism destinations in and around the city. Tour guides and service providers are all locally-trained community members.
There are various offerings – hikes, trails, camps and adventures to be found off the beaten track in community spaces.
In Glenwood, in the Roberts House, a 19th century family home, is the Phansi Museum and Cultural Centre – an extensive and unusual collection of rare Ubuntu Art exploring healing, sleeping and symbolism. The museum – which has three exhibition spaces and various galleries – deals with “prejudice, myth, collective memory, histories, customs, traditions, power and loss.” The museum is particularly known for its life-size marionettes from throughout South Africa.
And that’s not all …
Other places of interest include: The Old Fort/Warriors Gate/NMR (for those interested in military history); the Durban Botanic Gardens (Africa’s oldest Botanic Garden); the Temple of Understanding in Chatsworth (just beautiful, with a great vegetarian restaurant); the 1860 Heritage and Documentation Centre (about Durban’s Indian community); The Britannia Hotel (with a complex history and great curry).
There are tour guides to help discover new places – walking tours are great.
All photos by Illa Thompson